Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Glen or Glenda (1953)

Glen or Glenda

Guest Review by Jimmy Retro

Written & Directed by Ed Wood, Jr.

Bela Lugosi .... Scientist
Lyle Talbot .... Insp. Warren
Timothy Farrell .... Dr. Alton/Narrator
Dolores Fuller .... Barbara
Edward D. Wood Jr. .... Glen/Glenda
Tommy Haynes .... Alan/Anne
Charles Crafts .... Johnny

In December of 1952, America was stunned by news reports that a former soldier who left for Denmark as George Jorgensen had returned as a Christine. A sex change was a taboo topic at this time, and budding director Ed Wood who would go on to film many notoriously known 'B' movies, was hired to make a film around this marvel.

What the viewers got was a little bit of a documentary, a little bit of a mockumentary, and a whole lot of extraneous rambling from a mad scientist about snips, snails and dragons, and bizarre scenes of a cartoon-like devil and borderline sadomasochistic footage.

Early on, the viewer knows Glen or Glenda is going to be about a controversial topic. You see a newspaper with the headline, “World Shocked by Sex Change!” There's a disclaimer asking for an open mind and offering a reminder that the film takes no sides, just a presentation of the facts.

We meet a scientist played by Ed Wood favorite Bela Lugosi surrounded with test tubes and skulls. He begins the narration while evoking a howling storm of lightning and wind. A compelling argument begins, albeit eccentrically delivered, about people going their own directions in life, having the opportunity to shape their destinies, “One is wrong because he does is right because he does wrong. Pull the strings! Dance to that, which one is created for!” rants the scientist.

Then a narration within a narration begins, as Police Inspector Warren goes to visit with a psychiatrist, Dr. Alton, in an attempt to figure out the motivation behind the suicide of a cross-dresser he had investigated.

Although a small percentage of the film attempted to be a biographical portrayal of George Jorgensen, this true intent had gone astray when the majority of the movie was about Ed Wood's personal experience with cross-dressing. Dr. Alton's voice is carried throughout two stories, one of Glen (played by Ed Wood himself) who is deeply in love with his fiancée Barbara but doesn't know how to tell her about his cross-dressing desires and the other is a very brief story about Allen, a soldier overseas who would dress up as a woman on weekends away from his active duty and eventually sought out a team of medical experts to change his sex into a female.

Dr Alton's explanation of what the academic world knows about cross dressing and sex changes is the most intellectual part of the film. A point was made that not all people with the desire to dress as a woman want to have the parts of a woman, and vice versa. Nor does that necessarily make one a homosexual. Educational stuff for the Fifties, to be sure!

Then, the scientist appears with crazed and bulging stares into the camera and here begins a drawn-out musical sequence of a guilt-ridden Glen being struck down by an ornery-looking devil, intertwined with a random man tying up a woman, and then a woman tying up a woman—including whips and forced make-out sessions! Unsure of what the symbolism is here, it is interesting nonetheless.

This movie had a difficult time deciding whether to be serious and informative, or a “step right up, folks! Behind this curtain you will see a carnival freak-show for a nickel!” type of film. But perhaps this was Ed Wood's intention. He made a mockery of the way society saw sex changes and cross dressing as something from a science fiction movie for entertainment value while at the same time communicating that people who desire to dress in the opposite sex's clothing or who desire to be the opposite sex, aren't works of mad scientists or carnival acts but ordinary people who can end up having positive and enlightening outcomes. Regardless, some of the content was irrelevant and over the top making it too easy to dismiss this film as being merely a b-rated farce.

Glen or Glenda is worth seeing for a nostalgic and retrospective view of a topic that is more mainstream now. Plus, why pass up an opportunity to see someone in good drag?

ALSO KNOWN AS: Glen or Glenda: Confessions of Ed Wood, He or She, I Changed My Sex, I Led 2 Lives, The Transvestite

65 minutes
Black & White
United States

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